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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

St. Adalbert Parishioners Want To Take Over Their Beloved Church: ‘The War Has Not Been Won Or Lost Yet’

Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez is putting pressure on the archdiocese to meet with parishioners, saying he might work to "downzone" the property.

Polish Parishioners hold signs outside St. Adalbert one week before the church is set to hold its final mass in July 2019.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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PILSEN — One week before St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church is set to host its final mass, Polish and Mexican parishioners united outside the church, vowing to continue their fight to save it.

On Sunday, members of two groups working to keep the beloved Pilsen church open told a crowd of nearly 100 parishioners that two appeals were filed with the Archdiocese of Chicago, and they would continue to fight to keep the property as a religious complex.

“This is another battle but the war has not been won or lost yet,” said Julie Sawicki, president of the Society of St. Adalbert. Sawicki has proposed funding the church’s needed repairs by turning its convent space into a bed-and-breakfast-style religious retreat that would aim to maintain the religious character of the property.

“The church is protected by canon law. The church has rights, and the rights of the church are being ignored,” Sawicki said.  

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Julie Sawicki, president of Society of St. Adalbert, tells parishioners “the war has not been won or lost yet.”

On June 23, the Archdiocese announced the church, located at 1650 W. 17th St., would hold its final service on July 14. The following day, the church will cease to be a “sacred space and may not be used for worship,” Archdiocese officials said in a statement.

St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants, and the current church building was built in 1912. 

In 2016, the Archdiocese announced it would consolidate six Pilsen churches into three. As part of the merger, St. Adalbert would close immediately, while Providence of God, 717 W. 18th St., and St. Ann’s, 1840 S. Leavitt St., would become worship sites for other parishes in the neighborhood before ultimately ending regular church services.

They cited changing demographics, low mass attendance and a decline in the number of priests as reasons for the reconfiguration.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Lifelong Pilsen resident and St. Adalbert parishioner Blanca Torres has been engaged in an effort to save the church.

Blanca Torres, a spokeswoman for the St. Adalbert Preservation Society, has been fighting to keep the church open for years. She wants the archdiocese to allow the Polish and Latino parishioners to take over the property and “lift up the church.”

“We want to keep … the heart of Pilsen beating, and forever strong for future generations to come,” Torres said.

Anina Jakubowski, whose mother, Mathilda, fought to keep the church open in the 1970s, also believes the community can revitalize the church. 

“Why don’t they give us the opportunity to show what a true renewal is?” Jakubowski said. “Give us the opportunity we deserve. These churches were built by the people for future generations.”

Last week, the archdiocese told Block Club they were in “advanced discussions” with multiple parties to sell the property.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Anne Maseli defended the church closure process, saying that it was “transparent” and inclusive.

On Sunday, Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) told parishioners that there would be “no movement” on the future of the church property until the archdiocese meets with parishioners. 

Sigcho Lopez said he would consider doing “whatever it takes,” including “downzoning” the property to ensure parishioners and Pilsen residents are brought to the table on whatever is proposed for the site.

Credit: Mauricio Pena/ Block Club Chicago
Byron Sigcho Lopez talks to the media in April.

“It is irresponsible…to decide that after the 14th that it is no longer a sacred place,” Sigcho Lopez said. “What is going to happen with the upkeep? What’s going to happen with the day-to-day operations? Without a conversation, it is irresponsible to make any decisions.”

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Maria Rafa holds a painting of St. Adalbert Sunday.

Maria Rafa, whose grandfather laid one of the final bricks on the towers when the church was built, never imagined seeing her beloved church shuttered.

“The Archdiocese is not helping their cause of renewing the church, they alienated people here. These parishioners are not going to be going to St. Paul,” Rafa said. 

“There was no inclusion, no conversation of an alternative way to save this.” said Rafa, who grew up across the street. “It’s really hurtful…This feels like a total act of disrespect.”

Despite the announcement, Rafa is hopeful that the coalition of Polish and Mexican parishioners can keep the church open.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago

For Rosemarie Dominguez, a parishioner of the church for 27 years, the closing of St. Adalbert is not just the closing of another church.

Dominguez said Pilsen has lost many families to gentrification in recent years, and said putting condos at the church site would be “more damaging to the community.”

“Pilsen will change dramatically,” Dominguez said. “This is beyond a faith-based issue. If it’s sold and converted into condos, we will see the concerns of  gentrification and displacement intensify,” Dominguez added.

The Archdiocese of Chicago could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday.

The final mass at St. Adalbert is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, July 14. 


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